Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Place Is The Message

Image credit: Matt Stoller

We tried to speak between lines of oration
You could only repeat what we told you.
Your axe belongs to a dying nation,
They don't know that we own you.
You're watching movies trying to find the feelers,
You only see what we show you.
We're the slaves of the phony leaders
Breathe the air we have blown you.

Lyrics to "The Punk Meets The Godfather (NOTE 1)
Back when I worked for a relatively large defense firm, I had a boss who when we were making up slides for a presentation, would insist that we only have three "bullet points", meaning three thoughts or concepts to discuss, per slide. "What happens if there are four things to talk about?", I'd ask. "Remove one of them", was the response. Needless to say, most of those slides had either two or three bullet points, since almost never made sense to make a slide with only one. I suspect this sameness didn't help hold peoples' interest very much.

Why did my boss insist on this rule? It turns out that someone did some research into how best to hold an audience's attention in these sorts of presentations, and that was a rule they came up with. Too many thoughts at once, or too few slides, and people lose focus. All of which, I can tell you as a member of those audiences, is largely true. The problem wasn't the rule itself. The problem was in the application.

Rules like this are guidelines. Follow them most of the time, and you're going to find whatever you're doing works better. Unfortunately, there are times when the rules don't fit very well. For instance, there's a rule in english grammar that I try to follow, which is to not begin a sentence with a conjunction. It's a good rule, most of the time.

But every once in a while, I feel the need to break it. Because sometimes, that's what works.

Image credit: Rayna Daine/Occupy Together

Which brings us to the "problem" so many on the Left seem to think the Occupy Wall Street movement has. A great many pundits, that largely useless group of chowder heads whose sole purpose in life seems to be to repeat what passes for conventional wisdom among our rulers back to us, think that things are just all wrong with this movement. Where's the platform? Where are your fancy clothes? Where's the list of demands? Where are your objectives? Where's the media outreach? Where are the grievances? Where are the riot police?

What got me thinking about that story about the bullet points was an article Dusty wrote a couple of days ago at Leftwing Nutjob:
As someone that spent my last employed years working in marketing, I clench my teeth when I read blogs or Corporate Media articles tearing into the occupiers about the lack of ‘a message’. I know they need one[.]

NYCLU at OccupyWallStreet, cops intimidating journalists and photographers
She wrote that on the way to pointing out that it didn't matter here, but this encapsulates the sort of thinking a lot of folks apply to this situation.

The problem is, it's perfectly obvious what the message is. The message is the place.

If you asked those protesters what their own particular demands were, you'd no doubt get dozens of different responses. There are so many things that are going wrong right now, from crumbling infrastructure to lawless government, that making any short list of demands, the only thing that seems to hold the attention of the chowder heads, is going to leave out so many important points as to make the list almost worthless.

Besides, take a look at these protesters. They're kids. They have acne. They're falling in love. They have huge appetites. What they don't have, generally speaking, is a perspective of how their society and its financial system work based on their own experiences. Heck, I'm in my fifties, and I can handle just about any math you can throw at me, and I can't figure some of it out.

What they certainly do know is that the future looks worse every day, and it's their future. As Kevin Gosztola put it recently:
No person participating in Occupy Wall Street will talk about some mythical American Dream that has been held over Americans to pacify them. They understand this country has owners and like comedian George Carlin said there is a club and they “ain’t in it.” They are out planting the seeds of rebellion and for many it is either annoying because they think it will divert and suck off too much energy and fail or, worse, lead to a confrontation that sparks riots.

Why Establishment Media & the Power Elite Loathe Occupy Wall Street
[I added that link to the George Carlin video and my own commentary]

Yes, for the record, some of the protesters are older, but mostly this is the young fighting for their future.

Why should we expect them to come up with a list of demands? Do you think it would make much difference, assuming they could even agree on all these points, if they had pamphlets to hand out with the official Occupy Wall Street logo that said something like this?
I could probably easily add lots of other items to that list, all of which would have a positive effect on the economy, and all of which are things we already know would do exactly that. So could lots of people, the problem is that our rulers don't want to implement them. (see NOTE 2)

We know what needs to be done. We've been saying so for a long time. Click on the economy keyword here. Go to the Economics Policy Institute and start reading. Read Robert Reich, Paul Krugman, or Dean Baker for crying out loud.

You don't arrange a protest to deliver a doctoral thesis. You arrange a protest to deliver one simple demand to your rulers: Get it done.

Besides, there is a more specific message, and to anyone who is willing to listen for a moment, it's loud and clear. It's our first "bullet point":
  • Stop letting this place suck the life from our country
Phrase that any way you want. Stop the greed. Stop the "I've got mine, the hell with you" attitude. Stop obsessing about taxes when we already pay less than just about any advanced country. Stop the ruthless pursuit of profit, no matter what the cost to the society you live within. Stop the endless control fraud with no one being punished except people who had a friend willing to tip them off.

Image credit: Matt Stoller, clipped by Cujo359

They're protesting at the black heart of our nation's financial sector - the place where people did their level best to ruin our economy, were bailed out by the government to the tune of trillions of dollars, and gave themselves bonuses while exclaiming about how it's "class warfare" to make them pay more to clean up the mess they made.

That brings us to our second bullet point:
  • Make the people who profited from our decline pay to reverse it
Caption: Where did all the economic growth end up? Into the hands of the richest people in the country, mostly.

Image credit: Economic Policy Institute

Yes, that's my summation of lots of signs we see in all those pictures, but how much of an idiot do you have to be not to notice this theme? All those references to "the other 99%", "the banksters", and "bailouts" are about the fact that a scant few percent of Americans are the only ones who have seen their standard of living increase in the last three decades. As they've profited, we've declined, in our educational systems, our health care, our industry, and our science. These things all made us stronger as a people and as a country when we were willing to support them. Now, we're told, somehow this was all wrong. To use President Fierce Advocate's formulation, we've all "gone soft", thanks to being coddled so much by our marvelous health care system, I suppose.

Caption: A chart of who has benefited from the expanded economy from 1950 to the present. As you can see, folks in the upper one percent or so of the population have reaped most of the benefits since President Reagan changed the tax burden in America. See this article for an explanation of that chart, and some others. [Click on the chart to enlarge.]

Image credit: Critter's Crap

I have news for him. We're dying at a rate of 45,000 a year thanks to not having access to health care, something his piece of crap insurance industry-subsidizing health care "reform" bill has done nothing to address. Every day, we're trying to figure out how to do with less, thanks to the government's policy of propping up the financial sector, rather than simply letting it go bankrupt and taking it over. We die at a horrific rate relative to other advanced countries through murder and other criminal activity, yet there are far more of us in jail than in any other country we'd want to call a peer.

It's pretty tough down here in the lower 99 percent, Mr. President, and maybe if you think otherwise you can spend a year or two being us.

Why is this so hard to understand? To avoid understanding these points, at least if you've been paying attention to what's been going on in America for the last couple of decades, you have to want to not understand.

But there's one final bullet point we need to cover. It's a message that's probably hidden from the view of anyone who is under 30. Still, they're making this point, whether they know it or not. To understand what that is, those of us who were around during the 1960s need to think back for a minute.

Remember when we were their age? Remember wondering if you were going to be sent by our parents' generation to go fight in a useless war? Remember how we weren't supposed to trust anyone over 30, because anyone who would send their kids to some place they hadn't heard of to kill other kids they had no beef with didn't deserve to be trusted? Remember that?

No, I was never silly enough to believe that. I knew there were plenty of my parents' generation who opposed that war - not only because their kids were involved, but just because it was plain wrong. They'd fought their own war to make sure things like this didn't happen, where powerful countries would use their strength to subjugate the little ones. They loved the idea of a United Nations, where disputes could be resolved peacefully. Nor did I think that we were any smarter than they were, generally speaking. I was pretty sure we'd commit our own follies, whatever they might be. The best I could hope for was that we wouldn't repeat theirs.

When I was the age of most of those protesters, I was able to attend college at a fairly inexpensive state school and receive a good education there, thanks to the college grants my parents' and grandparents' generation set up. The public schools I attended as a boy trained me adequately to attend there, thanks to generations of Americans who knew that an educated public was the basis of a strong industrial society. Those who couldn't go to college could still hope for a high-paying job in a manufacturing company or a construction trade. Unions still had enough power to negotiate living wages, because our grandparents and their parents had fought for, and passed, a legal and economic environment where that was possible.

Image credit: Cropped from this U.K. Guardian photo by Cujo359

And what did we do when it was our turn to run the country? We didn't bat an eye when we shipped high-paying jobs overseas, assuming that the free market fairy would bring us new ones. We dismantled the regulatory systems that our grandparents had put in place to prevent the next depression, once again calling on the free market fairy to save us from ourselves.

At the same time, we gradually closed off any opportunity for our kids to get a higher education, saddling those who still could with massive debts. We sent our kids off to fight useless wars.

It's as though we said to our parents and grandparents "Thanks for holding the gate open for us. Now close it and don't let anyone else in."

When Senator "How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" voted for the Iraq War, I knew that even my own modest hopes for us were not going to be realized. We were more feckless than our parents.

So here's a bonus bullet point, for those over 45:
  • Try to be the people you know you should be
Whatever John Edwards' personal faults, and the man has a few (see NOTE 3), I'll always respect him for being the first presidential candidate to dare to state the obvious, which is that we are the first generation who won't leave our kids a better world than the one we inherited. Like Pete Townsend's Godfather, we just tell them we used to be just like them, when it's perfectly clear that, in many ways, we had it far better. We should be ashamed, and no doubt some of us are.

It would be a lot more useful, though, instead of feeling guilty, to actually be those people some of us thought we'd be three decades ago. Be the people who want everyone to get a fair shake in life. Be the ones who remember the pain and suffering that useless war can wreak on a society that wages it. Be the people who at least try to make things better, by opposing the people who are trying to ruin this country for their own profit, and the politicians, all of them, who allow that to happen.

There you have it, something for every chowder head - a message, three bullet points, and a list of demands. What are you pundits and other so-called progressives going to do about it, other than natter about how this demand or that one is just not "serious"?

My bet is that you're not going to do a damn thing worth talking about. Which, quite frankly, makes those kids in their mohawks and funny clothes a hell of a lot more serious than you are.


NOTE 1: "The Punk Meets The Godfather" is a copyrighted work of Pete Townsend and The Who, none of whom approved of or are even aware of this article.

The song is from the rock opera Quadrophenia. It's about a young fan who is living on the streets who meets up with The Who.

NOTE 2: Actually, some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters have come up with lists of demands, as David Swanson notes.

NOTE 3: I wouldn't even mention Edwards' faults, but for the near certainty that some mouth-breather will feel obliged to explain how he's under indictment and cheated on his dying wife. I know that, and it's magnificently irrelevant. It's possible, and in fact it seems to be normal, to have a good understanding of things and yet still screw up. He's the first major presidential candidate to voice that uncomfortable truth, and he deserves credit for that.

UPDATE: I've added a couple of charts and added a few links that explain some of the things I've written about the economy. Unless I find typos, this article should be in its final form.


Expat said...

This post has gone far too long without some mention: You do good work! Thanks!

Completely forgot not trusting anyone over 30. Time flew; the calendar is showing a year and four months until 70. How the hell did we get here? What are we supposed to do now? Cassandra's plague has become infectious, there are words being spoken but neither heard nor understood, the bridge to the future is fallen into the abyss; the only option remaining is for those who's destiny is the future to understand themselves, their species, and their environment and rebuild their world as best they can for the conditions they encounter, a task far greater than those assigned Hercules, failure will make the punishment of Prometheus a picnic. How they are to accomplish it without the resources of humankind's long history of experience as a treasury to expend, and tools to use is beyond my poor ability to fathom; they have only a blank slate with which to write their destiny, for better or for worse. No envy here.

Cujo359 said...

Thanks, Expat. I was beginning to wonder if anyone had read past the first few paragraphs. Even a comment saying I was off my rocker, assuming such a comment had explained why, would have been welcome.

Instead, it's just silence, and people at other blogs not bothering to note what I wrote here when provided the link by way of explanation...

Anyhow, we humans always seem to muddle through somehow, and I suspect that eventually we will again. Unfortunately, I don't see how it's going to get better any time soon. Most of the people who are in a position of power who ought to care clearly don't, and it's going to be slow going changing (or replacing) their minds.

So yes, there are days when I feel like Cassandra. There do seem to be quite a few of us, though. Maybe I should form an interest group. ;)

Unknown said...

Excellent post and thanks for clarifying my post as I do not believe they need a concrete list of demands, goals or anything else.

I feel their message is clear: Justice. Economic Justice, political justice, social see where I am going with this right? ;-) How we get there is up to the voters and the people they put in office from here on out.

Cujo359 said...

Yes, I see where you're going. It's a good one-word answer. I think of it in Teddy Roosevelt's words "A Square Deal", as in, an honest day's wages for an honest day's work, a right to have one's grievances addressed even if one isn't rich, etc.

Ironic that a Republican President was the one who popularized and believed in that phrase. Shows how far we've sunk, I think, when now even the party that's supposed to be for the little guy can't be bothered to try to make sure it's how things are.